Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Getting Fired Badly Adds to The Indignity

Unfortunately, almost all executives, especially those in advertising and marketing, will be fired at least once in their career.  To some, it may become a badge of honor, but at the time it happens it is always awful.

(As a recruiter, I have to laugh – these days, no one gets fired.  They get laid off.  Same difference.)

No matter what you call it, it is a terrible experience. And the reasons don't matter - it doesn’t matter if its because your company lost an account, business is bad, there was a reorganization or even if it is for poor performance (which is all too often a lame excuse and has nothing to do with the truth).  It is a terrible blow to anyone’s ego and self-worth. Having to claim unemployment is humiliating for most people despite the fact that these days one can apply on-line.   

Many company’s policies regarding severance, unused vacation, health insurance only make matters worse and having to negotiate for these items only reinforces negative feelings. And terminations are often handled impersonally and with little or no compassion or regard to the employee.

Some people charged with handling terminations have become callous and jaded – they forget that they are dealing with people.  It is essential that they show empathy and compassion and sympathy. Every person who is terminated has his or her own set of problems.  Some are broke and will worry about paying bills; some have health issues with themselves or a family member and will be concerned about paying medical bills; others will have their own unique set of circumstances.  Even when there are mass layoffs, the person doing the deed needs to do it in a way that acknowledges the employees unique issues.

Frankly, when I was in advertising,  when employees who worked directly for me needed to be terminated, I insisted on doing it myself rather than allowing HR do it. (I would provide the reasons and do a short-form detail of arrangements – severance, etc.  Then I would send them to HR for more details.)  I always felt that if someone worked for me, the least I could do was to fire them myself.  I have always thought that while having HR do it was certainly easier on me, it was a cowardly thing to do.  I felt that I owed it to anyone who reported to me.

Over the years, I have heard too many stories of mass layoffs where the supervisor of the person being let go was never told that their subordinate was being terminated.  I find that dreadful.  And it leaves the supervisor feeling slighted as well.

I remember when Lintas lost Burger King and had to let go of dozens of people.  As I recall, they lost the account on a Monday and did the terminations on Wednesday, most employees being asked to leave the building immediately as if they had done something wrong.  As I remember it, the terminations were handled by HR and there was actually a line in front of the director’s office.  The people on the line knew what they were waiting for. How inhumane and impersonal.

The worse I ever heard was an 18 year tenured senior vice president at a top ten agency who had no warning and had been in an internal client meeting which lasted all day.  She was walking back to her office with her client.  When she arrived at her office, there was a stranger sitting at her desk.  He informed her (and her client) that he was there to escort her to HR and then would escort her out of the building.  He had already confiscated her computer and put (what he thought) were her possessions in boxes and they would be sent to her; he would not allow her to take her personal laptop.  It would be delivered withe her personal items,  She felt like she had committed a criminal act. A stranger actually fired her in front of her client.  How incredibly cruel.  Before leaving the building, she used her cell to call the president, and to his credit, he was appalled and stopped the humiliation and allowed her back to her office. Good thing she had her cell with her.

What an awful way to handle an eighteen year employee. 

This story points out is twofold.  The people in charge of termination have no real sense of their affect on the people who are being let go. And it also shows that management doesn't necessarily know how terminations are handled.  And it is just as important for people to go out with dignity as it is for them to come in with fanfare.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Adventures In Advertising: An Employee Gets Revenge

When I was an assistant account executive in my first job, I was working at the Richard K. Manoff agency.  Manoff was extremely successful.  He was an account guy who left Kenyon & Eckhardt with Welch’s and, as I recall, Bumble Bee Tuna.  (It became a large and successful agency and was purchased by McCann in the late eighties.).

I had been working on two small pieces of business during my first summer. I reported to two account supervisors.  In August, what was then Lehn & Fink gave the agency all its business – Lysol, Resolve and d-Con among the brands.  It was a huge win; as I recall, about $40 million. Those were the days when agencies hired about ten people per million in business, which meant that 350-400 people would be hired. With great apologies, I was told that because of the magnitude of the account, it was necessary to hire an account executive, who I would be reporting to.

As a result of the win, the agency took more space in the building.   I sat in a small inside office.  They hired a man named Bill Smith (obviously changed); he was to share my office until his was ready, probably two or three weeks.

On the day he started work, he was brought in by my former bosses to introduce us.  I stood up to shake his hand and, to everyone’s shock, with his new bosses standing there, he refused to shake my hand saying how much he resented sharing an office with me.  He also announced in front of them that everything I did would have to first be approved by him.  I was to submit any memos to him on a yellow pad, hand printed, not written in script, and he had to sign them or they could not be typed.  i was not allowed to go to a meeting without his permission. He also told me that his work took precedence over mine and that if our secretary was typing something of his, she could not answer my phone,  it was humiliating to say the least. My supervisors were as shocked as I was. They had hired a prick and a control freak.

There was no excuse for his behavior towards me.  it didnt take long to find out that everyone disliked him.

Suffice to say, it got worse.  He constantly belittled me and humiliated me.  He put me down in front of our clients and other Manoff employees. He did the same with others.

At Christmas time, I made a lunch date with my supervisors to tell them I could not work for this nasty man.  They told me that they hated him as well, but the client liked him and they couldn’t do anything about it just yet.  They were trying to find a new account for me, but advised that I should look for a job; they would be my references and explain to anyone who asked that I did a great job in difficult circumstances.

A month or so later, I had a new job.  Two years after, I ended up as a senior account executive at Kenyon & Eckhardt.  My career really took off and I was promoted multiple times in about two years, becoming their youngest senior vice president.

At some point, I was looking for an account supervisor and, while I was on the phone with the client, the HR Director brought me a résumé and asked if I could do an interview.  I was on the phone, not paying much attention, and said yes.  Of course the résumé belonged to Bill.

He was brought to my office.  When he went to shake hands with me, of course I refused. I did not stand up. He tried to apologize for his prior behavior, but I was able to look at him and say, and this is an exact quote (how could I ever forget?), “Bill Smith, I wouldn’t hire you if you were the last account supervisor on earth.  Now get out.” I turned my back to him and went back to work.
It was a wonderful moment.

I have no idea whatever happened to him, but the moral of this story is twofold.  First, there is no excuse to be mean or nasty.  Second, if one is mean or nasty, it will come around and bite you on the backside; what goes around comes around.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

The Most Serious Complaint I Hear Most About Recruiters And Some Solutions

There isn’t a week that goes by that I don’t hear the same complaint from candidates at all levels. Here is a quote from an email I recently received. “About a month ago, a senior talent recruiter for a major [advertising] holding company reached out to me. We had a great conversation.  Said [sic] I’m perfect to lead a global engagement.  Then not even an email or phone call. Nothing.   Is that typical?  If so why do they do that?”

Candidates who interview and never hear back are all too common.  Often this happens, even when next steps are spelled out.  It is a terrible thing to have a good meeting just go into a black hole.

In terms of this issue, I don’t fully have the answer, but I can guess at the reasons this person and many others like him just never hear back.  My thoughts apply to both corporate recruiters as well as outside recruiters like myself.  I don’t believe anyone is intentionally rude, but many don’t know better and are overwhelmed by their workloads and work pressures.  It is easy to drop the ball on candidates when two days has gone by and they have seen a dozen other people and have gotten five or seven new jobs to fill and they have attended six meetings.

Many talent recruiters are seeing far too many people every day – maybe four, six or more candidates a day.  Add to that paperwork and meetings and there is no time left for niceties. However, many bring it upon themselves because they don’t know how to end a meeting.

I am no pillar of virtue, but I manage the expectations of my candidates by telling them at the end of an interview that I will only contact them if and when I have an appropriate opportunity.  I also encourage them to call me any time and I always make time to return their calls.  It is up to the recruiter to manage perceptions of themselves and their company.  Just a few minutes a day can resolve this issue.  One trick for busy recruiters is to return calls when the chances are good that a call will go into voice mail – before 9am, during lunch, etc.  They can be thanked for calling and can receive a message with any status.  That often does the trick. And it leaves the candidate feeling that they have a responsive contact.

I have often believed that it is easy enough to have a subordinate call or send an email to follow up.  That call or email merely has to say the candidate is top of mind and that we will get back as soon as possible.  Also, in this day and age of Outlook and similar programs, it is so easy to program in a follow up call and send a personalized form email.

As in the case of the person quoted in the first paragraph, the recruiter didn’t say if there was anything available, but was trying to say that he/she liked the candidate, without being specific about a job.  After interviewing, recruiters need to recognize that people have selective hearing, so choosing words carefully is important. Being specific can save aggravation and time later. Next steps need to be spelled out and if there are no next steps, the candidate needs to be told so. Why have a candidate follow up and not receive a response; the candidate will only get frustrated and think ill of the company and the person he or she saw.   

I do some corporate lecturing and I remind recruiters, HR people and others who interview candidates that they may be the only person a candidate ever meets from their company.  How they comport themselves and how they treat their candidates is the way people will form an opinion of the entire company. Managing perceptions is really important.

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